Teaching Climate Change in Coal Country

We’ve established before that science communication is important, but good communication can’t take place without science literacy. Having an accurate, basic understanding of how the world works allows us to turn on the TV and instantly respond to the message. For instance, our knowledge of presidential term limits allowed us to catch this not-so-subtle jab President Obama made during this week’s State of the Union address.

But science literacy is just as, if not more, important. Science topics are detailed, full of jargon and exist on a large scale. For these reasons, science education must start at a young age, and it must be as accurate as we can make it.

West Virginia recently found itself in a bit of science education hot water over new science standards that cast doubt on climate change . While I have to applaud my home state for being one of the first 13 states to adopt what’s know as the Next Generation Science Standards, I can’t do much more than shake my head at the obvious manipulation of language in the some of the key concepts.

As reported by The Washington Post, “one sixth-grade standard requires students to explore the factors causing “the rise in global temperatures over the past century;” the West Virginia board changes required students to explore the “rise and fall in global temperatures over the past century.”” With one simple sentence, education leaders in West Virginia chose to discredit over 97% of scientists who firmly take the position that humans are contributing to a steady rise in global temperature.

After opposition from teachers, students, parents and professionals, the West Virginia state school board removed its changes to the standards and will be voting on the new standards in their original format in March.

Most importantly, remarks made by state school board members Wade Linger and Tom Campbell provided much needed context for the changes during an interview with The Charleston Gazette. “When asked why climate change was the particular “unproven science” that he and Linger were concerned about, Campbell responded “West Virginia coal in particular has been taking on unfair negativity from certain groups.” He also noted the coal industry provides a significant amount of money to the state’s education system. “I would prefer that the outlook should be ‘How do we mine it more safely and burn it more cleanly?” Campbell said, “but I think some people just want to do away with it completely.” The Washington Post also noted the importance of coal to the state.

While West Virginia continues to walk the tightrope between industry and education, I hope it at least takes a moment to heed some Presidential advice given in the latest State of the Union Address. “No challenge  poses a greater threat to future generations than climate change.”


6 thoughts on “Teaching Climate Change in Coal Country

  1. Great post Kristen! I was in the middle of this controversy, being one of the members of the committee who helped to write the standards, and then to find out some the language that we had sweated over have been changed so cavalierly. My initial response was, “I can’t believe they left all the other standards unchanged.” But eventually what was most upsetting, was that the multi-year, multi-state, democratic process which developed standards was not respected.


    • Thanks, Todd! It’s honestly a little terrifying to see how quickly a handful of people can drastically modify something so meticulously crafted. I was glad so see people step up and voice their concerns and anger, but I think West Virginia is far from an end with this issue. I can’t wait to see how it manifests itself next.


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